Every time Im lucky enough to make it back to that idyllic town, I think of my father, who passed away when I was 21. I remember him while paying husbands and wives to park on their front lawns in the shadow of the backstretch, just as he had done with me in tow in the 1980s. I think about him when I approach the turnstile while shouted down by the tout-sheet sellers as the red-and-white-striped awnings come into view. I imagine him, a spry Brant Lake Camp counselor in the late 1940s with a full head of red hair, hitching rides about 50 miles south to Saratoga Springs on a rare off day to try to quadruple his weekly earnings on the early double.
His and mine are two of the countless histories that play out starting every year in mid-July by the massive trees of the paddock, under the 1890s timber trusswork of the grandstand, and along the rail as the horses thunder past in a flash toward the wire.
Much more so than the Kentucky Derby, a visit to the Saratoga meeting is on my list of must-have experiences.